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Worst Practices: 3 Ways Businesses Fail at Social CRM

Worst Practices: 3 Ways Businesses Fail at Social CRM

The worst thing you can do is engage in a dialog, but then leave the customer hanging as you try to iron out your internal processes. That has the same effect on the customer as a call center agent who's not empowered to solve problems -- it leaves the customer frustrated and raises questions about your competency. It's better not to engage than it is to engage in a way that deepens the customer's irritation.

By Christopher J. Bucholtz
07/28/11 5:00 AM PT

By now, most people understand the power and the value of adding a social component to your customer relationship management strategy. Perhaps you're not yet ready to go to full social CRM, but you no doubt recognize that there is a lot of value in engaging with customers in the ways they want to engage. As social media become ever more omnipresent, you'll have no choice but to engage with customers through those channels.

You'll discover some great opportunities for creatively engaging with customers and potential customers, and for rethinking the ways your processes run today. Reassessing yourself through the eyes of the social customer is a good way to identify ossified processes and change them to fit the way people currently want to do business with your company.

Best practices may be difficult to delineate in SCRM because every company is different and every group of customers has unique characteristics. You need to build your own unique set of best practices to be effective with social. However, the things that go awry are strikingly similar.

Here are three ways businesses fail in their CRM efforts. Treat them like warning signs on the road: If you know the hazard is coming, you will be much more likely to avoid it.

1. All Enthusiasm, No Process

If you can identify customers who express a need for help on Twitter, Facebook, a blog or any other social media channel, it represents a chance to channel that issue to the right person in your business, to make that customer more satisfied, and to publicly demonstrate your company's devotion to service. All are good things.

The problem is that often at the start of these efforts, companies haven't established the processes needed to transport customer questions from person to person. Thus, the person managing the social media side of the business may reach out to a customer in need of help, then find that getting that help, even from a fellow employee, may be difficult.

The worst thing you can do is engage in a dialog, but then leave the customer hanging as you try to iron out your internal processes. That has the same effect on the customer as a call center agent who's not empowered to solve problems -- it leaves the customer frustrated and raises questions about your competency.

It's better not to engage than it is to engage in a way that deepens the customer's irritation.

Another issue, especially in technology, is the issue of paid-for support levels. Social media managers have to be careful to avoid providing certain types of help if that help goes beyond what the customer is paying for.

The risk here is that customers may figure out that they can short-circuit the process by purchasing lesser service packages and then skip around their limitations by going to a social media site, resulting in lower service fees and the potential swamping of social customer service efforts.

Before engaging with people around service issues, work on a process to define how those issues will be resolved. Figure out the workflow from social media to other parts of the organization. Think of ways to respond to requests that may go beyond what a customer's entitled to based on the level of support purchased, and think through the issue of duplication -- multiple responses to service issues on social media can waste your resources.

Also, realize that time is critical when engaging with a customer in social media -- it should be critical in other channels as well, but the social media tempo is faster than traditional service. Get some expectations of how long it should take to reach a resolution, and make sure you communicate that to the customer.

2. The Perception of Inauthenticity

The reason you engage with customers via social media is to strengthen your relationships with them. But social media is not a broadcast medium -- it's a peer-to-peer medium, even if the number of peers you're talking to is very large. In other words, customers have the perception that you're talking directly to them. That's why authenticity is critical -- each conversation needs to feel real, personalized and sincere.

What you can't get away with is a reliance on canned answers or automatically generated responses. While these may increase the productivity of your staff, they destroy the effectiveness of your CRM efforts. Customers can see right though anything pre-prepared, generic or worded like a marketing effort; they've been exposed to messaging for years, and they can instinctively sense the difference between people writing at them and people talking to them.

Some prepared responses are useful -- like technical answers to common questions. These can indeed save your staff time. But make sure you "wrap" the canned stuff in some personalized content -- an acknowledgement of the problem, a nice word about how you hope that helps, or even a phone number for additional assistance if that's appropriate.

Without the authentic, human element of this conversation, a customer may well wonder why it is that your company hasn't put these canned responses on a website -- it would save everyone a lot of time. Come to think of it, why haven't you?

Customers want a conversation. They're not there to be upsold, marketed to, bludgeoned with a boilerplate or treated like they're on the dumb end of the discussion. Be authentic, and you can avoid these bad behaviors.

3. Stretching Yourself Too Thin

This is a distinct problem for businesses leaping into social media: How do you know when to say when? There are so many social media channels out there that it becomes very easy to allow all your resources to be absorbed in a grand effort to cover them all.

Here's the problem: They aren't all right for your customers or for your business, especially if you're smaller and resource-constrained.

Social CRM should not be the equivalent of a giant virtual game of Twister in which you try to have a hand or a foot or something on every single social media channel. It should be an exercise first in listening and learning about where your customers are talking -- not necessarily about your business, but about topics that relate to your business.

Some rudimentary research can help you discover where the valuable discussions are taking place -- those should be your first channels to focus on and contribute to.

From there, the listening must continue. Channels come and channels go, so updating your A-list of social channels is a critical ongoing task.

Once you're engaged, stay engaged (unless you plan on making a strategic exit from that channel). The worst thing you can do is leap into a social media arena, make a big splash, and then inexplicably vanish. Rather than seeing you as a peer, your customers will see you as an attention-grabbing flake, which is probably not the image your company wants to send out.

As with any relationship, consistency and the passage of time strengthen things; capriciousness and fickleness ruin them. Get committed and stay committed.

Being committed may mean focusing on fewer channels -- but if you only have enough resources for them, that's good. Engaging well in fewer places is far better than engaging half-heartedly or haphazardly in many places.

These are not the only ways to fail, and there's no doubt we'll see even more spectacular failures in the future as social CRM evolves, but keeping these common hazards in mind could help you steer clear of them during the formative stages of your social CRM efforts.


CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at the CRM Outsiders. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.


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